Apple’s ‘Nike moment’ over Foxconn iPad factory conditions
Published 21/02/2012 | 11:13
CONDITIONS in factories owned by Apple’s contractor Foxconn have forced the iPad-maker to confront problems with staff welfare, an inspector has said.
Inaes Kaempfer, an auditor with the Fair Labor Assocation (FLA), told ABC News’s Nightline that publicity surrounding suicides and accidents at the Foxconn plant meant Apple was facing pressure similar to that which forced Nike to reassess ‘sweatshop’ suppliers in the Nineties.
“We call it the 'Nike moment' in the industry," audit inspector Ines Kaempfer told Nightline. "There was a moment for Nike in the '90s, when they got a lot of publicity, negative publicity. And they weren't the worst. It's probably like Apple. They're not necessarily the worst, it's just that the publicity is starting to build up. And there was just this moment when they just started to do something about it. And I think that's what happened for Apple."
Jobs at Foxconn, which are oversubscribed 10 to one and where wages are set to rise by 25 per cent, currently offer $1.78 per hour, or $425 per month. Workers told ABC News, however, that people would often leave because they wanted more overtime. Foxconn, which is cooperating with the FLA, is taking steps to limit excessive working hours.
Since a spate of 18 suicides in 2010, Foxconn has strung suicide nets around the top of its towers to stop ‘impulsive’ suicide bids. The company’s adviser Louis Woo told ABC that such tragedies were part of the reason that cameras were now being allowed into factories. Last year two explosions killed four and injured 77.
The FLA is inspecting Foxconn, in some cases using iPads, after Apple invited the organisation in to try to deal with the intense scrutiny its factories had come under. Other firms including Microsoft, Dell and HP have declined to comment on Apple’s bid to join the FLA, which is usually associated with Chinese clothing manufacturers. Apple CEO Tim Cook declined to be interviewed by ABC, however. He told investors last week, however, that Apple took worker safety extremely seriously.
Foxconn, based in Taiwan, currently employs 1.2 million people in Asia. Its success has powered major electronics brands to significant profits, and Apple fans bought more than 17 million computers, 38 million iPods, 40 million iPads and 93 million iPhones last year.
David Autor, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the New York Times that products were likely to become more expensive as costs of Chinese labour began to rise. He added, however, “"When people read about bad Chinese factories in the paper, they might have a moment of outrage. But then they go to Amazon and are as ruthless as ever about paying the lowest prices." Foxconn is increasingly automating its production lines.
Apple has been auditing suppliers since 2006 and publishing the results since 2007. After 229 audits last year, it claims that at least half of workers in over 90 factories exceeded the 60-hours-a-week work limit or worked more than six days a week. The company has terminated the use of 11 suppliers.
Mr Cook told investors last week, "We think the use of underage labour is abhorrent. It's extremely rare in our supply chain, but our top priority is to eliminate it totally.”